Why I Don't Hate NIMBYs

I'll be honest. NIMBYism gets under my skin. I try to keep cool when I hear concerns about environmental impacts in an urban neighborhood or the horrible traffic that will come from more housing. My skin crawls JUST A BIT, when I hear the phrase "neighborhood character".

My last post was all about how to rebut NIMBYs, especially when they complain about Durham's recent Expanding Housing Choices (EHC) initiative.

Even though my natural reaction is to get a little angry, I try to remind myself that I don't hate NIMBYs. To understand my position, you first have to recognize that there are really smart NIMBYs out there who are on all sides of the political spectrum. Once you realize that NIMBYs can be reasonable people, who want a better society for everyone and want good outcomes for vulnerable members of our society, you are forced to dig a little deeper.

It's important to note that racism and bigotry are real drivers of NIMBYism as well. However, if those were the only drivers of NIMBYism, I truly believe that NIMBYism would be a stance on the fringe of acceptable, especially in a city like Durham. There is something else going on.

At the center of the problem is the system we have created. Think about almost any consumer product you buy. When you buy a new pair of shoes, you wear them for as long as possible and then either donate them or get rid of them. The same happens with cars, appliances, furniture, clothing, and pretty much any other essential for modern life.

Homes are different. Through the magic of limited supply and financing tools, the product that we buy to meet our need for shelter is presented to us as a "good investment".

In fact, for many homeowners, it is their only or primary investment. Their retirement depends on selling their house and downsizing once the kids have moved out.

So, where does that leave us? Potential homebuyers need housing prices to go down so they can afford to buy their first house. Current homeowners need housing prices to go up because their investments (i.e. retirement, etc) depend on it. Obviously, those two forces are at odds.

Sure, you could call NIMBYs greedy for wanting to maximize their investments, but that's what they have been told their whole lives that they SHOULD do and homeownership is still upheld as the best way to build a nest egg. Don't hate the player, hate the game! It is perfectly rational for homeowners to want to protect their investment, especially if it is one of the only investments that they have.

So, when I hear someone fret about the increase in traffic or the overcrowding of public schools, I try to remind myself that not only are they worried about their quality of life going down, they are worried that their lifesavings will take a serious hit and that they won't be able to provide for their children and loved ones. That's something that I can relate to.

Of course, it is my belief that programs like EHC will actually make places better, more vibrant, and help to build better social capital, making residents richer in many different ways. But I completely understand NIMBY hesitancy and I generally think it is better to approach NIMBYs with compassion rather than being combative.

Check out the Forum!

To engage with other Durham enthusiasts, visit the forums here!

Popular Posts